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A Feature Review of
Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes It Good
Hardback: HarperOne, 2015
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Reviewed by Maria Drews
When it comes to the gospel, things have gotten confusing. I have heard the gospel of faith in Christ alone, where a belief that Jesus has died for our sins, sometimes sealed with a prayer, is rewarded with eternity in heaven. I have heard the gospel as a call for people to trust God’s present kingdom reign and an invitation to participate in it now. I hear the good news that God has conquered evil on a cosmic scale and all things are headed towards renewal. I also hear the good news of God’s love and the opportunity to have a relationship with God through Christ’s sacrifice. Mix in several theories of atonement, debates on hell, and an eschatology of awaiting a new heaven and a new earth (or the wildly opposite ending, everything burning up), and it can become difficult to put all the pieces together. Is one right? Are they all supposed to fit together? Isn’t the gospel supposed to be simple?
N.T. Wright begins his new book, Simply Good News, with a question: “What is the good news that Jesus himself announced and told his followers to announce as well?” But before Wright can get to the answer, he lays out the following:
The good news must be news. Wright argues that too often our telling of the gospel is not good news as much as it is good advice. When people are told they have a choice between heaven and hell and urged to pick heaven while they have the chance, they are being given advice– instructions about what they should do to get a desired outcome. Many of our ways of talking about the gospel end up as advice, and good as that advice may be, it’s not the good news Jesus was talking about.
The good news is about something that has happened. News is the announcement of a significant event that happened, making things different from there on out, not a new way of seeing the world nor a philosophy for life. The good news is the announcement of the event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, when something happened that caused things to change.
The larger story, the context of the good news, matters immensely. Wright argues that you have to put the gospel within the larger backstory found in the Bible. “To see Jesus’ death and resurrection as news,” he says, “you need the backstory. Otherwise it is not seen as significant.” If Jesus’ death and resurrection is placed in the wrong story, we miss the significance of the good news.